Projects on the Horyou platform are a key component in the promotion of social good. By starting an individual or group Project on Horyou, you can gain exposure, recognition, support and much more.
We recently interviewed Hector Alvarez from beyondBeanie, the winner of the SIGEF 2014 Call for Projects People’s Choice Award. Horyou believes in bringing visibility to projects that positively affect their communities. This is the case with beyondBeanie.
*Let’s first talk about this idea. How did it happen?
It all started during a trip to Bolivia in summer of 2013 in which I went to visit Paty, a friend whom I had gotten to know some years earlier in California. While traveling, my friend and I were talking about the hardships faced by the women artisans of Bolivia who struggle to make a living through selling their creations to tourists and passersby in the streets of La Paz and Uyuni. I really liked their knitted creations, especially the beanies! I went ahead and got myself a few of my favorite ones back to Europe. Once winter started to set in Switzerland, I showed around my Bolivian beanies to my friends to get their feedback. I was very pleased to see that they liked them too, and even more once I showed them the pictures of my trip as well as pictures of the artisans and local people whom I had met. What happened next was that I told my Bolivian friend to send me some products that I would try to sell through my friends. Paty went back to La Paz from her hometown Cochabamba (a six-hour drive), organized a few artisans and made some sample products for me. It was important for us to let my friends know who made their products. Therefore, every product includes the name of the artisan who made it, whom my friends could meet through photos. While talking to Paty, we also realized that there was a great need to help street and orphan children in Bolivia, and that is how the idea to have every product attached to a help of children came to be. Our project finally came life in March 2014 and I said to myself: “I’m ready for this!”
How is bB making a difference?
We are making a difference by creating sustainable local jobs for women artisans so that they no longer have to go out on the streets and leave their children unattended, as well as continuing to help children in need with every item sold (one beanie = five meals, one bag = one set of school supplies, one poncho = one school uniform).
Something we find very interesting is your approach to bB: “BeyondBeanie is a lifestyle brand.” Can you give us your insight on this?
What we mean by lifestyle is that we do not just want to be a brand which sells products but which also educates people about how their everyday life choices can make a positive impact to the world. We believe that by combining fashion with solidarity, we can create a brand that can create sustainable change – a brand which conscious-minded consumers not just appreciate but also “live,” as opposed to just “wear.”
There are many people involved in this process: artisans, local organizations and communities, the bB team, among others. How does the entire process work?
Yes, it is indeed a very large and complex process in which there are lots of parts and people involved.
First of all, it all starts with the idea that even though we do charitable work, it is our goal to position ourselves as a fashion brand so that we can make our social enterprise sustainable over the long run (the idea is to have people want to shop our products first and foremost because they are catchy and cool while having the added value of giving back, instead of simply buying because they feel sorry about street children and shop simply to support, but just wear our products once or maybe twice in their whole lives).
In order to come up with great looking and trendy products, we spend a whole lot of time studying and following fashion trends, which is mostly done by Paty and her assistant, Renee. In addition, we do also work in close collaboration with top fashion bloggers and bloggers such as Depeches Mode in France, or Braided Bliss, Victoria Moronta and Lisa Marie Prang in the USA, who all evaluate and try our products and submit feedback to us.
Once the products’ prototypes are approved and OK’d by our sample population, Paty will indicate to the artisans their specifications, such as required texture and wool, lengths and diameters, etc. This process is not always easy, as the product making can have some variations from person to person (our items are not industrially made but rather individually crafted, knitted, weaved and sewn by our talented artisans.
Even though most of our artisans whom we support already have good knowledge and experience in knitting and weaving, they still require training to understand how to master the making and specifications of our products. Therefore, we have learned that it is important to prepare everything several months in advance.
Fortunately, the part of forming collaboration with children centers to support has been relatively easy since Paty already had some connections with children’s centers that needed help and were eager to accept our support. The main problem was mainly in the beginning to try to understand what are the centers’ greatest needs, but once we understood them, the rest has been relatively easy.
Then the process that relates to the team, interns and volunteers helping in the project, we have a global team, which is divided, in two continents (Bolivia in Latin America and Switzerland, Germany and the UK in Europe, and most recently in the USA). The first few months when we got established were definitely difficult. In short, we all had to put lots of effort to deal with time differences, learn each other’s tasks, etc. Anyhow, everyone who has gotten on board has always felt a strong commitment and interest in the success of the project. Therefore, this has been a very powerful ingredient that has kept us together, even when things have gotten rough along the way.
I hope this gives a good overview about how everything works and flows.
What is your vision for bB? What do you think it can become?
It’s my dream to become a brand of choice for people who care about social good, as well as to hopefully serve as an example to other projects.
In the future, we would like to continue to expand our presence into other countries and online presence, as well as to continue to form collaborations with other awesome organizations that promote and “live” social good, such as Horyou.
Finally: What is your Dream? What is you Inspiration? What does the word “Action” mean for bB?
My dream for bB is to continue to develop our social brand, to keep establishing partnerships with similar-minded organizations, to keep promoting social good, all while educating consumers and impacting lives. Our inspiration here at bB is the happy faces and see how lives get changed to the about 80 children in two centers and 17 artisans that we support. The word “action” means to go out of one’s box and dare to do things in a different way to create positive change not just for oneself but to those around us too.
Thank you to Hector and all of the people from the beyondBeanie team for taking the time to share their vision with Horyou and for the video bB dedicated to us! We wish your 2015 to be full of many more accomplishments in the promotion of arts and education by strengthening the communities you directly support.